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Murder suspect told investigators shooting was 'mistake'

Prosecutors trying Samuel James Cooper on five counts of first-degree murder focused Wednesday on the shooting death of a homeless man near St. Augustine's College.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Prosecutors continued to lay out their case Wednesday in the trial of Samuel James Cooper, a Raleigh man facing the death penalty on five first-degree murder charges.

The state called several witnesses to testify about the shooting death of Ricky High, a homeless man who was shot multiple times in the arm and back on a street near St. Augustine's College in the early-morning hours of Oct. 12, 2007.

Prosecutors have said the two men knew each other but that High, 48, was an unintended target in an argument between Cooper and a group of suspected gang members.

A street friend of High, Aaron Graham, testified that he saw High and two other men talking on the street around 1 a.m. when another man walked up from behind them and started shooting.

The two other men ran away, leaving High behind with the shooter, Graham told jurors.

"He turned to Rick and said, 'You got something to say about it?' Rick said, 'No, no,'" he said.

High ran off, and the shooter followed, shooting until he hit High, causing him to fall.

"He stood over Rick and shot him again," Graham said. "I walked slowly. I didn't want to attract too much attention from the shooter."

Renee McClain, who knew High as a family friend and referred to him as "Uncle Ricky," testified to seeing a man dressed in black running out of nearby bushes a short time after the shooting along a path to a car.

Although she couldn't tell what he looked like, she said, the man took off his gloves, got in the car, sat there for about two minutes and then drove off.

Neither witness identified Cooper, 33, as the culprit, but in an audio interview, jurors heard him confess to High's shooting, saying it was "a mistake."

Defense attorneys don't deny that Cooper killed the five men but have said the issue in the trial is whether he acted with premeditation and deliberation.

They have said the answer is directly linked to his mental condition, claiming he suffers from a diminished capacity stemming from years of physical abuse at the hands of his father.

Prosecutors could finish presenting their case next week.

Jurors have already heard evidence about three of the other four shootings – Ossama Haj-Hussain, 43, on May 12, 2006; LeRoy Jernigan, 41, on June 3, 2006; and Timothy Barnwell, 34, on April 27, 2007.

Cooper is also accused of killing Tariq Hussain, 52, on Oct. 14, 2007.

Police arrested him in November 2007 on a bank robbery charge and subsequently connected him to the deaths through a gun he dropped while fleeing police, investigators have testified.



Chad Flowers, Photographer
Kelly Gardner, Web Editor

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